Opioid prescriptions drop in Tenn. due to new policy

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com assistant editor

December 10, 2020 -- TennCare's policy changes related to opioids cut the number of painkiller prescriptions written to Medicaid dental patients by nearly half, according to a report released on December 8 by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.

TennCare implemented prior authorization requirements and dosage limits on the medication in 2018. The move led to a reduction in the number of prescriptions written to Medicaid patients by 45% between 2017 and 2019, according to the report.

"A recent investigation into all areas of prescribing -- medical and dental included -- showed that enough prescriptions are being written for half of all Americans to have one, and TennCare is leading the way to drive these numbers down in Tennessee," Steve Pollock, president and CEO of DentaQuest, said in a press release.

The state also saw a decrease in the number of people who died from opioid overdoses between 2017 and 2018. In Tennessee, 739 people died from prescription opioids in 2016, and that number fell to 550 in 2018, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This corresponds with TennCare's changes and highlights how these actions can lead to improved health outcomes.

The figures

Though the numbers of TennCare patients between the ages of 0 to 20 who received dental care in 2019 and 2017 were similar, dentists wrote nearly 11,000 fewer opioid prescriptions in 2019. That is a difference of 45%, according to the report.

Additionally, the number of patients receiving opioid prescriptions dropped by 35% and the number of nonsurgical opioid prescriptions fell by 57% between 2017 and 2019.

Clinicians also wrote fewer high-dose opioid prescriptions to TennCare dental patients. The number of these types of prescriptions plummeted by 83% during that time frame, the report showed.

"This report is encouraging because it shows focused efforts can meaningfully reduce unneeded opioid prescriptions, and in turn, lower the potential risk for opioid dependency for our members," Dr. Victor Wu, TennCare chief medical officer, said in a release.


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